Easter Vigil - celebrating new life in faith
Mary Magdalene and the women took up spices to go and anoint a dead body. "Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre?" they asked one to another. It was a hopeless prospect, but they were going through the motions of doing what they could, with no sure and certain hope of anything. They were mourning for the dead Jesus. When people mourn they are convinced that nothing again can come to any good. That is irrational, but we do not say such people are mad, any more than we say that those in love, with an irrationally transformed world, are mad. Mourners and lovers may be sleepless and off their food, but they go on living, attending as they can to conventions of dressing and washing and walking about. So it was that the women were walking in the chillest part of the night towards a blocked-up tomb.
In many places, the stone is depicted not as the sort that rolls, but as a heavy sepulchre-lid, shaded in green. On it an angel sits, though angels no more need to sit to take the weight off their feet than they need wings to fly. Why, as St Matthew stated in his Gospel, had this angel rolled back the stone? One answer was that it was "not to open the door for the Lord to come forth, but to give evidence to men that he had already come forth". An angel couldn't raise Jesus from the dead, but he could roll back the stone, which the women couldn't. And so they inspected an empty tomb, and then found themselves running, as the Gospel-writer says, in "fear and great joy", which are indeed mixed emotions, in order to tell his followers. As they ran, Jesus met them and called a greeting. "And they came and held him by the feet."
The women had set out intent upon a good kind of action: to ensure a dead man was buried decorously. They had no idea how their pre-dawn venture would turn out. People don't know, when they begin good kinds of action. No mother knows what will become of the child she bears.
Easter is a festival of resurrection. That is more than resuscitation. It is a defiance of death that vanquishes fear of death's consequences. All heroically good people feel the truth of that defiance deep down in the heart.
A sarcophagus ordinarily consumes a body, but here at the empty tomb in Jerusalem it is death that is devoured. Jesus "went about doing good" and was killed for it. Easter is the antidote to the deterrent effect of crucifixion.
Sincerest thanks to James Wims for providing beautiful photographs to the parish website and archive.